Monday, March 24, 2008

Sarkozy's New Model Army

Sarko did more than promise to reduce the number of French nuclear warheads the other day. He also repudiated Chirac's plans to beef up the military. These date from 1996, when Chirac put forward a plan for a new and much-enhanced French army by 2015. But Sarkozy said that these plans were "unrealistic" and "obsolete." He also claimed that this was well-known, but that "no one told the French" people. Finally, he blamed his predecessor for saddling him with an unsound financial situation, which made it possible to meet the cost of building the new army, which he put at 6 billion euros a year.

All in all, it was a rather devastating critique of the Chirac regime and might have made a good campaign speech--for the Socialists, since Sarko was part of the regime he has now lambasted. He had little to say, however, about what sort of army modernization he envisions instead. It might be a good idea if he "told the French" a little more about this, since John McCain has also inadvertently leaked the news that Sarko plans to send 1,000 additional French troops to Afghanistan. Chirac planned to build up the army but mostly kept it home. Sarko is sending troops to Abu Dhabi and Afghanistan while ostensibly cutting the budget.

The president may have been reticent about discussing military details, yet his usual arsenal of offensive rhetorical weapons was fully deployed:

Chacun sait qu'au surplus ce modèle était irréaliste, on ne l'a pas dit aux Français, eh bien je le leur dis. Je me refuse à partir de ce modèle d'armée, pour simplement constater des renoncements. Il est vain de poursuivre indéfiniment des modèles hors d'atteinte".

The assertiveness, perseveration, and cocky certainty of bringing light to the blind are hallmarks of the Sarkozyan style.

Le Parti Socialiste bis

The Socialist Party now controls 20 of 22 conseils régionaux, 55 of 101 conseils généraux, and three-quarters of France's large cities. This has led some local elected officials to envision a national coordinating council of some sort, a structure that would bring these local powers together and give them a voice on the national stage. Several, including Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb and Toulouse mayor Pierre Cohen, mention their alienation from the PS's national bureau.

National coordination might indeed be a good thing, but not if it were simply a forum for powerful local officials to create still more courants around themselves. The Socialist Party suffers from a surfeit of ambitions and a dearth of ideas. This might be a good time to practice the participatory democracy that Ségolène Royal preached in her campaign. What the party needs is to avail itself of its strength at the grass roots to cultivate new ideas, to attend to what is really stirring at the base, and to develop a generation of young militants, particularly from underrepresented groups, who can begin to shape a new message for the 2012 elections. Local socialism may yet serve as a midwife to a new Socialist Party, but it is not yet ready to become one. Arnaud Montebourg, who knows a thing or two about the difficulty of conceiving a Nouveau Parti Socialiste, acknowledges the danger: the party, he says, needs "to open itself up to society rather than fall back on its bastions."